Your guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Your guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of the Iowa State Fair.

By Katie Giorgio

July 10, 2024

This 2024 Iowa State Fair Guide will answer every burning question you have, from cost and food to entertainment and extras.

A true summer tradition for many is the Iowa State Fair. This dynamic, colossal eleven-day event is a celebration of the best of agriculture, entertainment, and achievement in the state. Whether you plan to go for just a day and pack it all in, or go for the entirety of the fair (making use of the fair campgrounds), there’s so much fun to take in, food to be eaten, and experiences to soak up. 

Here are a couple of fun facts you may or may not know:

The first Iowa State Fair was held in Fairfield in 1854. It was held in cities all around the state until it permanently moved to Des Moines in 1879. So when we say the Iowa State Fair has been a tradition for families across the state for generations, we aren’t kidding. 

The Iowa State Fair was the inspiration for the original novel “State Fair” by Iowan Phil Stong, which was then made into a motion picture (three times) and a Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical. A visit to the state fair today can still be a truly Iowan and idyllic experience. 

Several presidents (or presidential hopefuls) have visited the Iowa State Fair, particularly since the Iowa Caucuses became the first in the nation. This includes Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower in 1954, Gerald Ford in 1975, Jimmy Carter in 1976 (as a candidate), George W. Bush in 2002, Barack Obama in 2007 (as a candidate) and in 2012 as President, Donald Trump in 2015 (as a candidate); Joe Biden in 2019 (as a candidate), and Ronald Reagan, who broadcasted from the Fair as sports director for WHO radio in the 1930s before he became president. 

Whether you are a veteran visitor of the fair or haven’t been in years (or ever!), read on to get all the details on making the most of your trip to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

When is the Iowa State Fair?

The Iowa State Fair will run from August 8-18 this year. This year’s theme is “Fair Fever,” and you are sure to catch it at the single largest event in the state of Iowa.

For the past several years, the fair has attracted just over one million people from all around Iowa, the country, and the world.  Whether you go for just a day, pick several days, or plan to camp out (yes that is totally an option and a real tradition for many families), there’s lots of excitement to pack into your visit. The fairgrounds are open every day from 8 a.m. to midnight (only closing at 9 p.m. on the last day) so there’s plenty of time to take it all in. 

Where is the Iowa State Fair?

Each year, the Iowa State Fair is hosted on the Iowa State Fairgrounds located on the southeast side of Des Moines. This has been the official home of the Iowa State Fair since 1886, making the fairgrounds just over 130 years old.

It covers 445 acres of land, so bring your best walking shoes and track those steps for the day as you may just set a record. 

Your guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of the Iowa State Fair.

How much does it cost?

General admission tickets for the fair can be purchased in advance through August 7th to snag some savings. Adult admission (which is for ages 12 and up) is $11 in advance, saving you $5. Admission for kids ages 6 to 11 is $7 in advance, saving you $3. Kids under 6 are free. These tickets purchased in advance are valid for one admission to the Iowa State Fair for any one day, August 8-18, 2024. Tickets can also be purchased daily right at the gate once the fair begins. 

You could also snag a State Fair Value Pack ticket which for $20 includes one Ye Old Mill ticket, one Snakes Alive or Train Exhibit ticket, one Rock Wall or Krazy Maze ticket, two Giant Slide tickets, one Sky Glider ticket, four $1 food/beverage tickets, and one ticket for a cup of Barksdale’s State Fair Cookies.

Separate ticket fees are available for a variety of special events throughout the run of the fair including the demolition derby, Fair After Dark events, barnyard yoga, and much more. 

Other advance ticket options include such fair favorites as the Barksdale State Fair Cookie Cup (just $5 and totally worth it!)  You can also purchase tickets for the various rides at the fair, including giant slide tickets, and one-day ride wristbands. Tickets for the various grandstand shows are available separately as well

All tickets are available through the Iowa State Fair website

What food will be available?

Of course, one of the signature features of the Iowa State Fair is the food. The official list of this year’s new food options won’t be available until July 16th (on Facebook Live at 1 p.m.) but you can be sure there will be irresistible and decadent treats. Last year’s winner of the new food contest was the deep-fried bacon brisket mac-n-cheese grilled cheese. Yum! 

Each year there are at least 60 foods available on a stick. Food vendors tend to get very creative with this. You can find everything from pickles, corn dogs, corn on the cob, and cotton candy to turkey drumsticks, hot bologna, deep-fried candy bars, chocolate-covered cheesecake, pineapples, and hard-boiled eggs. 

And you’ll likely not be surprised to learn that pork chops are a big hit at the fair. Anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 pork chops are gobbled up during the 11-day run of the fair. Hot beef sundaes (yes, beef, mashed potatoes, and gravy in a cup!) and cheese curds also come highly recommended. 

Between food vendors and exhibitors, there are more than 500 that operate daily during the fair selling food, merchandise, and big-ticket items (like hot tubs and farm machinery!) so plan to spend plenty of time and money on the midway making the most of your trip. There are sit-down food vendors, refillable souvenir cups, an ever-popular Iowa craft beer tent, and even some healthy and gluten-free choices.

And speaking of food, make time to check out the food contests. The Iowa State Fair features the largest state fair foods department with over 700 classes and hundreds of individual entries. You might even consider entering a favorite family recipe. 

Your guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of the Iowa State Fair.

What’s the entertainment?

Entertainment is a huge draw for the fair and has been for decades. Famed acts like Sonny and Cher, Johnny Cash, and Chicago have headlined the grandstand stage. Tickets are available each night and vary by show. This year you can see the following:

August 8th: Lauren Daigle

August 9th: Foreigner with special guest Melissa Etheridge

August 10th: Jelly Roll

August 11th: Greta Van Fleet

August 12th: Brett Young

August 13th: Thomas Rhett

August 14th: Motley Crue

August 15th: Gabriel ‘Fluffy’ Iglesias 

August 16th: The Avett Brothers

August 17th:  Ne-Yo

August 18th: Kidz Bop

There’s also plenty of free entertainment included with your daily admission ticket available every day and night on several other stages located on the fairgrounds. Musical groups (Iowa favorites like the Pork Tornadoes and The Nadas), comedians, magic shows, and much more pack the entertainment schedule for this year’s fair. You might catch the Iowa State Band performing on the midway. Or you can see chainsaw carving artists.

You can plan ahead by checking the entertainment schedule, but also plan to be surprised during your visit. 

Your guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of the Iowa State Fair.

What else can we expect?

You may have been wondering if we were going to forget the butter cow. How could we?!

The butter cow has been a staple attraction at the Iowa State Fair since one was first carved in 1911. The cow weighs in at about 600 pounds and takes approximately 16 hours to carve. Interestingly, each year after the cow is done being on display, the butter is frozen and stored to be used in subsequent years (which can be done for up to 10 years!). Today, the cow is usually joined by additional themed sculptures; last year featured iconic Iowa athletes Jack Trice, Kurt Warner, and Caitlin Clark. All the fair’s butter sculptures are exhibited in a 40-degree showcase cooler in the Agriculture Building.

Your guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of the Iowa State Fair.

Carve out some time during your visit to the fair to check out the various 4-H projects. Only the top-rated projects from each local county fair make it to state, so you are seeing the best of the best. And it can be fun to see what projects are trending through the years. The art building is always chock-full of stunning work, including fine art and photography, too. 

And don’t miss out on seeing the animals. The ag experiences at the Iowa State Fair are second to none. You are sure to be wowed and learn something new as you wander through barns dedicated to swine, sheep, cows, and horses. 

And maybe you enter a contest (options include cow-chip throwing, bags tournaments, checkers, a spelling bee, husband calling, and much more) or the Bill Riley Talent Search. Organizers of the fair like to say it’s YOUR fair, so you might as well get involved. The Talent Search is for young Iowans to showcase their talents. Qualifying events are held all across the state leading up to the fair, which culminates in awarding six sprouts (ages 2 to 12) and one senior (ages 13 to 21) winners at the Iowa State Fair. 

Needless to say, there’s so much going on at the Iowa State Fair each year that you are sure to find your kind of fun. To learn more about the fair and plan your visit this summer, check out https://www.iowastatefair.org/.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Your guide to the 2024 Iowa State FairYour guide to the 2024 Iowa State Fair

  • Katie Giorgio

    Katie Mills Giorgio is a freelance writer, editor, and nonprofit professional living and working in her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She’s written for a wide variety of publications, including WashingtonPost.com, BHG.com, and U.S. News & World Report. 100 Things to Do in Cedar Rapids Before You Die, her first book came out in October 2022. Learn more at katiemillsgiorgio.com or follow her on Instagram at @ktmgiorgio.

CATEGORIES: THINGS TO DO
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